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The fate of two worlds is at stake in this new addition to a series that blends fantasy and legend.
Seven years after the events of The Shadow Dragons, John, Jack, and Charles are finally able to return to their beloved Archipelago of Dreams. But even as old friends celebrate their return, new concerns shadow the reunion: the threat of Ecthroi, primordial Shadow. And perhaps even worse, the apparent splintering of Time itself.
Now the Caretakers must fight against their most fearsome enemy ever and attempt to restore Time, journeying through a forgotten Door from the destroyed Keep of Time in order to seek out the Dragon’s Apprentice. Failure will mean the end of both of the worlds. But success will carry its own price—a price that may be too high even for the Caretakers to bear.
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James A. Owen is the author of the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series, the creator of the critically acclaimed Starchild graphic novel series, and the author of the Mythworld series of novels. He is also founder and executive director of Coppervale International, a comic book company that also publishes magazines and develops and produces television and film projects. He lives in Arizona. Visit him at HereThereBeDragons.net.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Ghost of Magdalen College
Twilight had just fallen across the sky when the ghost pirate appeared at the base of Magdalen Tower. At first it seemed as if the ghost was on fire, but that was only a trick of the light. It was already quite dark along the cobblestone walk that crossed beneath the tower, so the light that emanated from the ghost filled the courtyard with an unearthly brilliance.
Eleven people were passing the tower in the moment that the apparition appeared. Three were professors who had seen many ghosts in Oxford, and so gave it no notice. Two more, also faculty at Magdalen, felt similarly about pirate costumes, and merely sniffed their annoyance as they passed, assuming as they did that it was some sort of student mischief. Four more were actual students, who reacted with surprise, awe, and no small amount of fear, and they scattered into corridors adjacent to the tower.
The last two people who witnessed the ghost’s appearance were Caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica, and a ghost pirate was at least as interesting as some of the other fantastic things they had seen, so they moved closer to have a better look.
John had arranged to meet his friend Charles at the base of Magdalen Tower so that they might walk together to their friend Jack’s private rooms there at the college, and they met just as the sun was setting. It was in that moment that the apparition had appeared.
Even if they hadn’t been Caretakers, a ghost would have been nothing to cause them alarm—Oxford had long had a reputation of being a haven to spectres and spirits of all kinds, and as long as they didn’t disrupt the business of the university, no one made a fuss. Even in the midst of the Second World War, it was also good for tourism.
“I didn’t think I’d ever actually see this fellow,” John whispered to Charles. “I’ve heard about the Old Pirate for years but never had the pleasure of seeing him in person, uh, so to speak.”
“How many other ghosts have you met here?” asked Charles.
“Ah, none, I’m afraid,” John admitted, “although I haven’t exactly sought them out, either.”
“Well, why not?” Charles retorted as he approached the ghost, hand outstretched. “They could prove to be really helpful to my writing, you know. Worth asking, anyroad.”
The ghost simply stood there, hunched over, staring into the darkness as the Caretaker introduced himself. “Well met, old fellow. My name is Charles.”
Suddenly the ghost began to move, jerking about awkwardly, as if it were a puppet in a penny nickelodeon. It seemed as if speaking to it had engaged it in some way. Charles dropped his hand. “Are you in distress?” he asked the ghost. “Why are you here?”
The ghost stopped, then turned and focused its rheumy eyes on Charles, who took full stock of it for the first time. The spectre had presence and looked as if it stood in bright sunlight—but it was transparent, ethereal.
By appearance, it was certainly a pirate, no doubt, but an ancient one, many, many years old. His hair was long and straggly, and the clothes he wore, once fine, were tattered with age. His hands were shaking, and his head twitched nervously. But his eyes were piercing, intense—and, Charles thought with surprise, oddly familiar.
“Caretakers?” the ghost said with a trembling voice. “Be ye Caretakers, here, at Oxford?”
Charles and John exchanged surprised looks. This was no run-of-the-mill ghost. Not if he knew who they were. Then again, there had been stories of the Pirate Ghost appearing in this spot for two centuries, and no one had ever reported that he spoke at all, much less that he had mentioned anything about Caretakers.
“Who is asking?” said John, stepping forward. “Who are you looking for?”
“Jamie?” the ghost answered. “Jamie, is that you?”
John sighed. “The only one of us who ever quit,” he said to Charles, “and he’s the one everyone asks for in a crisis.”
“No,” the ghost said, shaking his head. “Ye be John, I think. Ron John Tollers, unless I miss my guess.”
John stepped back in surprise at hearing a mishmash of his nicknames. “That—that’s right,” he said. “I’m he. Do I know you?”
The ghost spread its arms and smiled. “In another life, another time,” he said, his voice weary, “I was your friend Hank Morgan.”
“Good Lord,” said John, glancing again at Charles, who was equally stunned. “We can’t even walk across Oxford without stumbling into an adventure.”
The old saying about absence making the heart grow fonder is overrated, John had thought to himself as he prepared to go out earlier that afternoon. Absence doesn’t do anything except create longing, and an ache that cannot be remedied until the waiting is through.
He and the other Caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica, Jack and Charles, had been waiting for seven years for a chance to return to the Archipelago of Dreams. In earlier times, they had gone for longer periods without visiting, but there had been less urgency in those days—and maybe that was what stirred John’s unease. That, or the fact that they’d been forbidden to return. We never truly know we want something, he thought, until we’ve been told we can’t have it. Or perhaps it was the dark days of war covering the earth that made him long for the escape of the magical lands in the Archipelago.
Whatever it was, the price they’d had to pay for a victory in the future was steep. They’d jumped forward in time and defeated a terrible enemy, before returning to the time where they were meant to be. But to ensure that the victory remained certain, they had to stay away from the Archipelago, so as not to risk changing the outcome that had already happened.
They hadn’t realized how hard it would be to wait through most of the new Great War that had swept the Summer Country.
The Darkness of the shadows was hardest to bear. In those days when the shadows of the Dragons swept over all the Earth, John in particular struggled mightily against the impulse to act.
“We are acting,” Charles and Jack would remind him, “and we have. By waiting. We know that this is a battle we have already won, John. We just need to do our duty—and do nothing. Nothing but wait.”
Now, however, the waiting was almost over. The clock had caught up with the past, and the future was about to become the present again. And they could finally return and fully take up their mantle again as true Caretakers.
John had put on his jacket and looked at himself in the mirror. He was finally feeling the years of his life—and not just because of the Wars. He had now been a Caretaker for longer than he had not. It was one of the roles that defined him—and yet it was still one of the greatest secrets he kept from all but a few. Until, he thought with a smile, the new calling of Jack’s comes to fruition. If that works, well ...
Everything could change. Everything.
He had kissed his wife and children good-bye and stepped out the door.
It was less than an hour later that he and Charles began their conversation with the Pirate Ghost of Magdalen College.
“Hank!” John exclaimed. “What’s happened to you? You look so ... so ...”
“Old?” Morgan replied with a cackle. “Two centuries of waiting will do that to a man.”
“Waiting for what?” asked Charles.
“For you,” the ghost replied simply. “I was waiting for you, Good Charlie, and Ron John, and Jack-Jack the Giant Killer. I was waiting for the three of you.” He narrowed his eyes. “Where be Jack, anyroad?”
“He’s finishing a discussion,” said John. “We, ah, we weren’t exactly expecting to see you, Hank.”
“And why should ye?” Morgan retorted. “I’ve only been appearing in this same spot for two hundred years, give or take.”
“No need to be snappish,” said Charles, “but you never spoke to anyone before now.”
“Because no one has ever spoken t’ me!” said Morgan. “It only works if you speak first.”
“What are you talking about?” John said, clearly puzzled. “You’ve lost me.”
“No time, no time,” said Morgan, waving his hands. Then, he laughed, wheezing. “Or just enough, I suppose. Yes—it was just enough.
“Listen to me,” the ghost insisted with a new urgency in his voice. “You must build the bridge. Shakespeare’s Bridge. You can’t get back without it. But the bridge won’t work without a trump.”
He stopped and pulled one of the familiar silver watches from a broad pocket. He flipped it open and grimaced. “I’ve told them,” he murmured to himself. “The loop should have closed.”
Charles gripped John’s shoulder, and looks of worry creased both men’s faces. They were missing too many pieces of a far bigger picture here.
“Hank,” John began, “perhaps if we—”
“You must build Shakespeare’s Bridge,” Morgan said again. “It’s the only way! The only way for you to—”
He stopped and looked down at his watch, which had begun ticking. “Oh, thank God,” he murmured as he adjusted the dials on the device. “You’ve finally managed to make a new—”
In midsentence, Hank Morgan vanished.
“Oh my stars,” said John. “What just happened here, Charles? What did we just see?”
“Nothing we can sort out on our...
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